Reviewing movies is a tricky business. Having been a performer once upon a time, I’m not immune to the performer’s bias of critics who seem to “trash everyone’s hard work” for a living. I would, however, always read reviews of movies or games that I was considering seeing or buying so I guess I’m either part of the problem or a cowardly hypocrite. Either way, being the mature and cultured man I am today I concede that reviews have their place. Nobody is paying me for this anyway so really, what difference does it make?
The other reason that reviews are tricky for me is that they are the opinion of a single person and an expression of their personal tastes in entertainment or music or food or whatever it may be. This is problematic for me because my tastes, I am reliably informed, are objectively garbage.
So with that in mind, let us embark upon this voyage of my garbage opinions and hopefully the observations within will either provide a thought-provoking counterpoint to your culturally enlightened preferences or sway you to somersault into the pit of artistically hamstrung philistinism down here in the dark with me.
My point being, take these reviews with a pinch of salt but remember I’m right ‘cause this is my blog.
A Knight’s Tale- Dir. Brian Helgeland, Written by Brian Helgeland 12A
A medieval rom-com/action film with thrilling slow-mo jousts and contemporary swearing.
Recently I was asked by a bored friend to recommend a film. I would have usually asked what she was in the mood for. Which genre? Favourite actors? Feel good? Thriller? Stylistically are we thinking Wes Anderson or Guy Ritchie?
None of these questions did I put to her.
“A Knight’s Tale” I replied.
This film split the room when it came out in 2001. I was 11 years old and like most 11 year olds, I was already showing a predisposition for adventure stories. I liked knights and tales of glory and the musical stylings of Freddie Mercury and the lads.
Sitting at a measly 58% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.9 on IMDB it’s obvious that it was not critically acclaimed. It is also easy to see why. The premise sounds like something my old, jaded bones would cringe into dust at:
A story by Chaucer set to the music of Queen, Thin Lizzy and David Bowie. It sounds like the try-hard brainchild of the same types of people who lie face down in the street at the Edinburgh fringe festival and call it art.
But it really is excellent.
The basic, spoiler-free, plot outline is a hero’s journey of young squire, William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) who disguises himself in his former master’s armour, after the latter kicks the medieval bucket, in order to compete in the joust. Why the disguise? Well to compete in the joust, one must be of noble birth, and little Willy is most definitely not. Aided by his trusty brothers in arms he decides that they could make their ruse work in the long term and hurry off in the pursuit of glory and riches.
The cast is retrospectively excellent. Stuffed with big names that, at the time, were relatively small time. The irreplaceable Heath Ledger as our hero, back when he was less known for his fiercely intense commitment to award winning character acting and more for being a straw haired pretty boy, delivers a down to earth, convincing performance as a lowly peasant with his eyes on the heavens which has you rooting for him from the get go.
Mark Addy (of Game of Thrones fame) and Alan Tudyk (now known for being the voice of every supporting character is Disney features including the rooster Hei Hei from Moana) are solid and effortlessly genuine as Roland and Wat, William’s two closest friends. The chemistry between the three is brilliant and often genuinely funny.
The boys are quickly joined on their adventures by Chaucher himself. A brilliantly written and performed character who very nearly steals the show. Paul Bettany delivers a blindingly charismatic performance as the slippery but lovable “Geoff”, William’s herald. A role which resulted in a nasty case of laryngitis for Bettany due to Chaucer’s constant roaring and cheerleading on William’s behalf. This film was the genesis of my opinion that Paul Bettany is one of the finest actors working today. I thoroughly recommend “Creation” for his turn as Charles Darwin and “A Beautiful Mind” for his fantastic role as John Nash’s (Russel Crowe) roommate. He was utterly wasted as Vision in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The feminine presence of the group is provided by Kate (Laura Fraser before she began getting caught up in Walter White’s meth empire) a no-nonsense, talented blacksmith who is overlooked since she is a she. Kate has turquoise in her hair and has no time for your shit. We also see a touchingly vulnerable side to her in a scene where the group discusses past loves. She’s also owed a lot of gold coins from Nike.
Shannon Sossamon was pretty harshly maligned for her performance as Princess Jocelyn, William’s love interest, but I disagree. She’s ballsy and sharp (delivering a withering putdown or two throughout) and flies in the face of what we would expect a medieval maiden to be. Sossamon is all the lip-biting, smouldering knockout that a young hero could ever want but brings more to the, sadly underwritten, role than her ridiculous good looks.
Our baddie for the evening is the big bastard flavoured bowl of bastard soup that is Count Adhemar. He’s a slimy, sexist, backhanded piece of shit and is described excellently by Wat as a “lousy son of a bitch”. He is excellently brought to life by Rufus Sewell. Whenever he struts onscreen you just know he’s going to be the bad guy. It doesn’t help that he’s constantly dressed in black armour on a black horse and if memory serves, bells are tolling during his first appearance. Subtle it is not.
At odds with the medieval setting of the film are modern language, contemporary soundtrack and stylish (for 2001) wardrobe. The idea being that the filmmakers wanted to recreate the excitement and splendour of the medieval tournament scene as it would have been at the time in a way that a contemporary audience could relate to. Knights were, after all, the original rock stars of their day. Instead of fanfares and lute solos we’re treated to Brian May’s sixpence shredding guitar riffs that we’re supposed to believe are coming from the bugles blown by the heralds at the film’s opening. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is fairly tongue-in-cheek, I hope. I think you either get it or don’t as far as the tone of the movie goes. Which maybe explains the middling reviews.
It is not a subtle film by any means and in hindsight is predictable and cliché in parts. What it is, though, is great fun. It’s funny, touching without being too saccharine, ridiculous and silly but will leave most people feeling pretty good at the end.
Overall a strong cast, an engaging story and a fun, refreshing twist on a well-established genre with a scorcher of a soundtrack (look forward to the Bowie ballroom scene). All in all I’d highly recommend giving it a shot and at roughly and hour and a half its not too big of an ask. Friday night popcorn, feelgood cinema through and through.
I don’t approve of numerical scores so here’s my fantastically detailed scoring system:
Worth a watch
Wait for it to come out on Netflix
Don’t even bother